The Past is Present: Higgins Fueling Station
Higgins' service station at the intersection of the Rock Creek Parkway and Virginia Avenue may look like an architect's whimsy, a gas station masquerading as a rustic cottage. But, whimsy was not the architect's inspiration.
The fueling station was a new "building type" in the early 1900s. Oil companies were moving the stations from unpopulated areas into cities and towns as more people bought and used cars. The companies needed city residents to accept their new business and so designed the stations to blend in with the surrounding buildings. One way that they suggested a continuity of design between station and office building was by placing clocks on station facades much like those of banks and other establishments. (See one of the original clocks on the right front gable at Higgins.)
Higgins opened for business in 1932, in the depth of the depression. Oil companies competed fiercely for customers in the troubled economy.
They added amenities such as the restroom, trained service attendants and experimented with various station designs to accommodate community tastes.
Yet, in the end, the National Park Service was the major influence on Higgins' architecture. The Park Service required that all private businesses operating on or near national park land must blend in with the parks scenery. The rustic cottage style is an example of a "blending" design. Still, today, the Higgins-like rustic cottage style is the only station architecture allowed inside our national parks.
So when the architect began his sketch of the Higgins station, it was not his playful imagination that guieded his hand. Rather, it is more likely that the Park Service was paramount in his thoughts.
Higgins is the name of the original proprietor. The Haynes family purchased and operated the station from 1940 to 1970. Leon Miranian, known to many people at Watergate, bought the station in 1970 and operated it until his retirement in 2002. Currently, a new family is operating the station.
The station was built of local stone. Two non-functioning chimneys still decorate the rear slope middle of the building. Inside, a wood stairway leads to an unfinished attic. The station was built with a functioning basement. But it was later filled in to meet evolving building code restrictions on fueling station layout.
Higgins' station has operated for 72 years. One would think that the Watergate developers would have acquired Higgins land. They bought the adjacent Watergate Inn and the Riding Stables. but not Higgins. Most likely, the National Parks Service drew the western boundary line for Watergate. So, today we still see the Watergate Complex on one side of the line and Higgins on the other.
2006 - still standing
Today, Higgins is almost an oddity as it is overshadowed by the abstractly styled and massive shape of the Watergate West building.
Watergate West seems to overwhelm Higgin's station. West's neighbor the Watergate office, also takes first place in that well-known scandal, the Watergate breakin.
During the night of June 17, 1972, five burglars broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office complex.
The photographs on this and the following page were exhibits in the trial of Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy.
Part of: File: United States versus G. Gordon Liddy, Eugenio Martinez, et.al., 06/1972-1986 Records of District Courts of the United States, National Archives.